Growing Hosting Artistry – Deepening Personal Hosting Practice

It is now six weeks since we gathered at Riverwood in Minnesota for the first offering of Growing Hosting Artistry.  We have been reflecting on the experience and there are multiple levels of harvest to offer out and to build on.  This is the first.

art supplies

Growing Hosting Artistry arose in response to a deep need expressed in the expanding Art of Hosting community for a next level offering of practice or inquiry.  This comes from the desire to delve more deeply into the patterns beneath the patterns and from the questions that a typical three day AoH training does not have time to touch, particularly now that so many of the trainings are non-residential and because the body of knowledge we draw on has grown significantly over the last decade.

Black and white pattern

In preparing the initial invitation, the hosting team discerned from the many conversations we were having both with those new to AoH and with long time, skilled practitioners that there were a few topics of inquiry that consistently came up.  These topics were identified as:

The biggest inquiry related to these topics was, “How do I, as a host, deepen my hosting practice so I can work skilfully in all kinds of situations, including the increasingly complex and challenging work I am being called into in my organization, community or the larger system?”  For some, it was large scale, long term work and for others it was localized in a team or organization but the hunger for greater depth of practice was clear.

The topics identified resonated with the participants who represented the diversity of experience in our AoH community – from never having been to an AoH training, to just recently having attended an AoH training, to being a skilled practitioner, to being a steward. They came from all over the US, from Canada and from Australia.  We heard from the participants, and many other colleagues who were drawn to the invitation but could not come, that they saw themselves in the invitation no matter what the form of their work.

We offered, for the first time, a deeper exploration into container setting and we are still working on visuals that will aid us in how to approach this practice. It will be shared in a subsequent harvest.  The exploration of shadow provided excellent learning reference points and we are exploring how to generate the most useful and powerful conversations that highlight our experiences and show us explicit ways to hold the field when various aspects of shadow are present.  The inquiry into worldview helps us understand our own worldview, how it impacts how we host and how being curious about the worldview of those we host and are hosting with creates a generative space where more becomes possible and new narratives truly can emerge.

Most participants were interested in being hosted as they hosted themselves (not in contributing to hosting). Many – more than we were expecting – were also looking for a personal retreat to be in a reflective space about their hosting, their work and even their lives. Inviting people into this space of reflection brought into the space the diversity of personal experiences that often shows up – from excitement and eagerness to resistance and everything in between.  This was apparent as everything from an immediate transformative experience for some, to agitation and questioning from others, to a slow burn towards the end goal, showed up during our time together.  Everyone was impacted, each in their own ways, and some profoundly.  Many spoke about the quality of space that was held for their personal hosting journey and story to emerge in new ways.

Immediately following Growing Hosting Artistry we heard stories of how some had been impacted.  We are evaluating this offering and did a baseline survey as we began, another survey at the end of our time together and are set to do a two month follow up evaluation as we follow the stories of the people who were there, what has changed for them as hosts as what they learned or discovered settles into them and into their work.

Growing Hosting Artistry is working with and discovering patterns for this next level inquiry that is calling so many of us.  We are working on the next two offerings – one for Canada (likely Halifax) and one for Australia (likely Melbourne) as we continue to discern the patterns that support each of us in our next levels of AoH skill, application and artistry.

Worldview, Practice and Action – Taking Whole

Authored by Jerry Nagel

 In Art of Hosting trainings, several of my colleagues and I have been offering a short teaching on worldviews and the importance for each of us to understand what our own worldview is. I often link it to elements in the Art of Hosting workbooks that I feel are an expression of an AoH worldview such as seeing the world as a complex living system and not a machine.

The simple teaching has two components – an explanation of worldview impact using the Ladder of Inference from systems thinking and an explanation of worldviews in The Rules of Victory: How to Transform Chaos and Conflict – Strategies from the “Art of War”. (Gimian & Boyce, 2008) The text known as the Sun Tzu and more popularly as The Art of War offers a framework for action that contains three components – View, Practice and Action. Central to view is the idea that the world is an interconnected whole. Seeing the world this way informs one’s Actions in the world and the Practices used to manifest (act) the View of interconnectedness. In the Sun Tzu this idea is referred to as ‘taking whole’.

The diagrams below show how our worldviews impact the actions we take in the world and, that as we act in the world, our worldviews are impacted and potentially changed; that patterns and practices like those offered by the Art of Hosting are the tools or methods we use to bring our worldviews to action; and that as we act in the world what we learn impacts the methods we choose to manifest our worldview. If the methods we choose to manifest our worldview are not congruent with that worldview, then our actions will not ring true with people. They will see us as not acting in a way that reflects the worldviews we claim to hold. This simple explanation has proved quite thought provoking for AoH participants.

Worldview Influences Action

Our Actions Influence our Worldview

A worldview can also limit us, because it could close us off to new knowledge if we only see the world through our existing knowledge and assumptions. (Jenkins, 1999) Importantly for many of us, our worldview offers us a way to understand the world that gives us “a feeling of being home” and that reassures us that our interpretations of reality are right. (Heibert, 1997)

Ladder of Influence

Ladder of Influence

One tool from systems thinking that helps visualize how easy it is to get trapped in one (world) view and close off the possibility of seeing other perspectives is the Ladder of Inference. The process depicted follows a flow from the bottom of the ladder up to the top. We ‘see’ data in the world and go through a process of sense-making that then informs the actions we take. What the Ladder of Inference shows us is that the beliefs (worldviews) we adopt can influence what data we see. The result is that we begin “seeing only what we want to see.”

If we are in a time in the Western world of co-creating a new narrative of wholeness, then as hosts it becomes important for us to not only clearly know what our worldview is, but to understand that within our own contexts and within other contexts there could be greatly different worldviews. (Shire, 2009) In other words, given the depth of invitation to step into dialogue (discourse) that we are asking of people, we should remember that our worldview could be much different than someone else’s within our community or local cultural context. And, that people we are working with that are from other local contexts may have differing worldviews within that shared construct.

In thinking about our world today it is fair to say that, “The presence of a multitude of alternative worldviews is a defining characteristic of contemporary culture. Ours is, indeed, a multicultural, pluralistic age.” (Naugle, 2002) Thus, as we practice dialogue in our world in order to find ways forward, we must develop the capabilities to work in the multi-varied and rich system of many worldviews. To do so, however, requires skill and practice and the capacity to hold paradoxes or multiple truths all at the same time.

Learning to effectively communicate (host/facilitate) in a different or new cultural milieu is a deep-level process.  It involves connecting at more than an intellectual level with the ‘host’ culture. It involves connecting at a heart and spiritual level. If worldviews are a matter of the heart, then to enter into effective communications within a different or new culture means opening up one’s heart as a host/facilitator to a space/place that connects heart to heart. This involves capacities to be vulnerable, to respect difference, to be curious and to sit in the space of the unknown or unknowing (i.e. nonjudgment), and to be self reflexive regarding one’s own thoughts, reactions, and carried in thinking about another culture. It also involves recognizing the limiting role our language can play when hosting, which will help each of us as hosts to hold our own and invite others to hold their opinions about another’s worldview much more lightly. This is a core part of the artistry of hosting.

References

Hiebert, P. (1997) Conversion and Worldview Transformation. International Journal of Frontier Missions. 14(2)

Jenkins, O.B. (1999) Worldview Perspectives, http://orvillejenkins.com

Shire, J. (2009) The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. Nottingham, UK: Inter-Varsity Press.

Naugle, D. (2002) Worldview: The History of the Concept. Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Impact of The Relational Field of Hosting Teams – Ingredients for Success

Ah.  The relational field.  What is it and how does it impact hosting?  This is one of the explorations we are in for Growing Hosting Artistry.  There is a relational field that convenes in the room, any room, as hosting team and participants gather. Some would argue, the relational field begins to convene before the physical gathering and is one of the reasons we pay attention to container setting as a hosting practice.

At any gathering there is not just one relational field – there are constellations of relationship. Some of those constellations of relationship are in the room and some reach beyond the room but still might have influence on the room.

AoH Constellations of Relationships

AoH Constellations of Relationships

The hosting team has its own relational field and the quality of that field has an influence on the larger relational fields we host. We have seen and experienced it time and time again. We know a well connected, cohesive team can address the challenges that show up in a space far more effectively than a team that has challenges within its own field.  A team with challenges in its own field draws some of the energy from hosting the participants or client group to hosting the team, if we even can.

Cohesive, fluid hosting teams haven’t always been, and still isn’t always, my experience.  In my early days of hosting, most of my experiences were with teams with challenging interpersonal dynamics – a rich learning field in itself – and my more recent experiences are more likely to be generative cohesive hosting team fields, although not 100% of the time, of course. In these cohesive, generative fields, humour, support, intuitive empathic hosting connections are alive in the field.  Sometimes the communication between the hosting field happens so empathically very few words are needed to host the field, make decision, be responsive to what is alive in the field.  It is a thing of beauty and one that people feel as much as see.

Having contrasting experiences on hosting teams offers the opportunities to notice and reflect on what works well and what doesn’t.  In hosting myself and in inquiry with hosting mates, we are becoming more aware of how to, more often, invite the kinds of experiences that work well.  And a starting point is always in the first of the four fold practice – hosting self.

What are some of the things we are learning about relational fields and want to be in deeper inquiry about?  One for sure is paying attention to and intentionally cultivating the relational field.

Being curious about the term relational field, I came across Phil Pearlman’s writing on the Relational Field and Twitter and his description resonates for our work in the Art of Hosting. “Relational field comes from relational psychology which posits that humans are inherently social and that  no personality exists independent of relationships. The relational field has attributes such as clarity, contingency, complexity and structure and relational psychologists know a good bit about how the qualities of these features affect the development of relationships. The optimal relational field is one that has the potential to foster enduring authentic relationships.”

That last line bears repeating: The optimal relational field is one that has the potential to foster enduring authentic relationships. The invitation to all of us to show up fully, whether we are stewards, seasoned hosts, practitioners, stewards, apprentices, logistics coordinators or participants.  We are all equally human, equally beautiful, equally valuable and  each of us holds a part of the whole.

The space for this invitation is often held by the stewards on a hosting team and could be held by anyone.  It is not just a verbally issued invitation, it is one that is fully and authentically supported in all our actions and in our energetic field, in the space we create and hold for others to step into, in the responsiveness to all the voices that show up.  When, as seasoned hosts, we are able to step into our own humility and support the field from what might seem a less visible place, we open the space for others to step in more fully. When we don’t do this (and maybe none of us do it well all the time), when our actions or energetics are inconsistent with the words of invitation, or in Jerry Nagel’s writing on world view, when we do not “take whole“, people will be reluctant to step in. The invitation will not feel fully inviting or authentic.

To seed the field of invitation, or the relational field from which the invitation is offered, it is stronger when at least a couple of people on the team know each other well, have worked together well, where mutual full trust exists, with whom they know they can handle pretty much anything that comes along.  With a minimum of the two (and one or two more is even better), a team can hold the space for whatever wants or needs to show up in the team – and then in the gathering being co-hosted.

Co-hosts and apprentices are wanting to know and understand their role, what they can contribute and how welcome their contribution may or may not be.  We are all wanting to know where our learning edges are, what each of us wants to step into and how this can best be supported.  More seasoned practitioners have the opportunity to support people stepping up to their next level of learning, hosting or offering.  It is a thing of beauty when people publicly step into their learning edges, usually with some fear, some trepidation and loads of courage.

When we create the spaces for people to step in, when we are able to stay in our own humility and not have to offer comments every time someone else is leading an offering, the space for brilliance is created and each member of a team will have moments they truly shine.  We also become more responsive and alert to when what we have to offer from our experience is what is needed – a thought, an observation, a question, a teach, a framing for what’s in the room, making something visible, stepping into our own brilliance in service of what is needed now. Knowing when to step in and offer what is needed now is important – a part of the art.  Knowing when to step back is also part of the art. Doing it in a way that supports others, builds on what others have offered, in the spirit of expansion and illumination, is a gift to self, a gift to others and a gift to the field in which we work.

A question very much alive every time we step into a relational field, those we’ve been in before and those we are in for the first time is: what is the humility, generosity, open heartedness and also the brilliance that needs to be present and available in me, in each of us and collectively that supports the environment of co-learning in service of the field we are entering and committed to holding?

In our work with hosting teams in trainings, with clients, across many contexts and countries (including Canada, Brazil, United States and Australia) these are some of the awarenesses that are growing around what consistently supports strength, cohesion and capacity in hosting teams to take on the bigger questions and challenges that are calling us to grow our hosting artistry.

Understanding World View and How It Impacts Us as Hosts

authored by Jerry Nagel

Each of us has a worldview and a personal story about how we perceive reality. Our worldview combines the cultural and personal beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, values, and ideas we hold to form maps or models of reality. Our worldviews come from our collective experiences in society – from our parents and friends, the books we read and movies we watch, the music we listen to, our schools and churches. We then interpret these experiences into an individual worldview.  (Jenkins, 2006; Schlitz et al, 2011)

World view eye

In practice, we use our worldviews, without necessarily being conscious of it, to construct complex conceptual frameworks in order to organize our beliefs about who we are and about the world we live in. (Schlitz et al, 2011) These maps or models help us explain how we view the world and why we act as we do in it.

Our experiences within the contexts we live in, be they religious, geographic, or cultural, all contribute to how we interpret reality.  Often this vision of reality is not fully articulated in our conscious awareness. In fact it could be so deeply internalized that we don’t question where it comes from. As practitioners and hosts of the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter this is an invitation into personal inquiry.  Understanding our own worldview grows our capacity to host others better.  Especially because our worldviews influence every aspect of our lives – what we think about, how we act, what assumptions we make about others, what motivates us, what we consider to be the good, the moral and the true. It gives coherence to our lives. It is the channel through which we interpret reality as we see it.

Worldviews are an individual phenomenon and a group phenomenon. (Jenkins, 2006) Everything we hold to be true is found in community. A community is not just a geographic or placed-based clustering of people living together as a village, town, city or nation. A community can also be a discipline in science, a faith community, a community of practitioners of a type of music, art or sport or a community of practitioners of the Art of Hosting; and these communities are part of a world of “multiple simultaneously existing local realities” (Hosking, 2011). These local constructs or realities are primarily constructed through language based processes such as the written word, art, music, dance, speaking, symbols, sign, etc. (Hosking, 2011). Thus, it is through ‘language’ that we represent our worldviews and it might be through language that we will begin to understand another’s worldview.

Worldviews are not necessarily or always fixed. Individual and community/cultural worldviews often shift or change. These changes can be quite small and hardly noticed at first, but eventually have a transformative impact.

Worldviews can also change quite significantly as evidenced by many changes in the past century resulting from scientific advances (flight, Internet, space travel, atomic energy, etc.). Some shifts can be so transformative (or converting) that people change religions or physical characteristics. So, while worldviews are locally constructed, they can shift based upon changes in local or global constructs as well as individual or collective experiences. On a personal level, these types of changes often manifest in some form of spiritual experience that impacts a person’s view of self in the world (Schlitz, Vieten, & Amorok, 2007).  In effect, we have the ability to change our worldviews with awareness, consciousness and intentionality.

If our worldviews are mainly locally constructed, then we could ask, “What consequences do these local, cultural worldviews have for our ability to work together?” – an inquiry relevant to Growing Hosting Artistry. One answer is that they can create barriers to understanding and finding common ground for working together. Which raises questions of “What to do about it?” and “How can we avoid collisions of worldviews and instead come together in ways that build understanding and respect and allow each of us to hold on to that which is most important?”

The invitation, individually and in our hosting work, is to be in inquiry, to be curious; to be nonjudgmental; to approach hosting from a stance of not knowing; to practice generosity; to value good conversations and recognize that good conversations can lead to wise action; to remember that the practice is the work and to remember that many world views can exist in the same place when we step out of either-or thinking into the welcoming of many different perspectives in the same space and time, celebrating difference rather than insisting on sameness. Growing our hosting artistry on the individual and collective levels creates more invitational space for ourselves and for others to show up in the fullness of who we each and all are.

Jenkins, O.B. (2006) Worldview Perspectives, http://orvillejenkins.com

Schlitz, M., Vieten, C., & Amorok, T. (2007) Living Deeply: The Art & Science of Transformation in Everyday Life. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Schlitz, M., Vieten, C., Miller, E., Homer, K., Peterson, K., & Erickson-Freeman, K. (2011) The Worldview Literacy Project: Exploring New capacities for the 21st Century Student. Institute of Noetic Sciences, Petaluma, California.

Hosking, D. M. (2011) Telling Tales of Relations: Appreciating Relational Constructionism, Utrecht School of Governance, Utrecht, Netherlands.

There’s A Reason Why It’s Called “The Art of…”

What is art without technique and is technique alone really art?  When people ask us about “the art” part of hosting, our response is often that you need to be in the practice to grow your artistry and maybe there is a way to be even more intentional about this.  This is part of what has evoked the offering of Growing Hosting Artistry  by the team of Jerry Nagel, Stephen Duns, Dave Ellis, Roshanda Cumming and me.  We are in the desire to be in a learning journey with others about how we do this – how we grow our skill, grow our artistry – to prepare for and rise to that which is  calling us into deeper and more challenging work.

art supplies

Awhile ago, I’d been in a beautiful reflection after a delicious conversation with my good friend and partner Jerry Nagel. We were discussing upcoming work in California, Brazil and Minnesota just after he’d been listening to an interview with Rosanne Cash. She spoke about working with her muse – the muse being the source of inspiration for creative work.  She said she works with her muse all the time.  All the time.  Not just sometimes.  All the time.  A discipline.  A practice.   In little whispers along the way and in more structured forms.

She also noted how performing in front of an audience is not a one-way street although she used to think that early on in her performing career.  Now she knows through experience there is an energetic exchange between the performer and the audience.  Tuning into the energetics.  Fuelling and being fuelled.

My conversation with Jerry started with a curiosity about how working with the muse relates to the work we were going to do in Brazil in Hosting From a Deeper Place with two Brazilian friends, and definitely applies to the purpose of this latest offering of Growing Hosting Artistry.  Perhaps it is about how we each individually work with and cultivate our muse, our source of inspiration.  How we move technique to art or if we are already in art, how we grow our artistry in our work and life? Because it is a practice.  It is a discipline.  It is not just present some of the time.  It is present most or all of the time.

We then moved into an exploration of what we do in Art of Hosting trainings, in our work with clients and what’s happening in the field in Minnesota where over a thousand people have been to an Art of Hosting training in the last couple of years with some stepping into a deeper journey but wondering really, what is the path to artistry and what does it take to get to the field beyond good technical skill?

People will often say they come to an Art of Hosting training for a technique – like World Cafe or Open Space Technology.  Or, as we often hear, “to expand their tool kit”.  And technique, particularly good technique, is fundamentally important to what we do and what we offer.  We need to know and practice the foundation or the fundamentals to get good.  An artist practices technique – whether with paint, music chords, performance basics, fitness basics.  I wonder if artists talk about expanding their took kit or if they talk about growing their craft?

Most of us don’t just sit down at a piano and have beautiful music come out unless we are some sort of musical prodigy.  Nor would we expect that.  We would expect, if we were inspired enough, to learn the foundations and know that after we learn the foundation then we have the opportunity to become more and more intricate with the music, the style, the mix of technique.

Some never move into artistry from being a technician and, for sure, not everyone must. However, there is a quality we can observe, hear or sense, that lets us know when we are listening to music from a good technician and when we are listening to music from an artist.  It comes from the heart, from the soul.

It seems to come when we can relax in the technique and live in the art – just as true in hosting work as any other kind of artistry.  Art  bolstered by working with the muse all the time.  Even, maybe especially, when we are not working with groups, we are working with the muse.  Developing a discipline of practice. The practice is the work.  The practic is holistic – involving fitness, health, spiritual and personal practice that allows us to know ourselves – the first fold in the four fold practice – hosting self, being present.  The more we know ourselves, really know ourselves, in addition to the solid foundation of knowing the technique, the more we dip into artistry.

The difference between being a technician and an artist is subtle and dramatic at the same time.  It is something we sense but can’t always name.  It is tuning into this energetic exchange between host and hosted.  Sensing what is there rather than looking for it.  In the looking for it we sometimes miss what’s really there.  In tuning in, we sense the subtleties in the room, in the energy that is present that requires hosting in quiet and/or more obvious ways.  We become like a well tuned instrument.  And it can take years of intentional practice for this to happen.

With practice, the discipline begins to call on the host.  Time to exercise.  Time to meditate.  Time to invite a conversation – to host and be hosted.  Time to be curious.

Hosting from a deeper place is what happens as we move beyond being good technicians into artistry.  There’s a reason why, when we name a training, workshop or intensive, we often call it the “art of…” The first or surface invitation is into technique and process.  The deeper invitation is into practice and discipline that tips us over into artistry, the understanding of the deeper patterns, the energetic architectures and sensing into the subtleties that show intervention points that are much harder to grow awareness or understanding of when we are in the technical learning of our craft.  It is why one art of hosting training does not a practitioner make.

Technical competence and expertise?  Yes we need it.  It builds a strong foundation.  Artistry?  Where and how does your soul call you into growing your hosting artistry and what are the subtleties you notice – in others, in yourself – as you tip over?  What muse inspires you to deeper places in your being and invites you to bring more of who you are to what you do?  What journey do you need to embark on to host for a deeper place?

(Originally published at Shape Shift on August 12, 2012)

Hosting Shadow

According to Jungian psychology, shadow is a part of the unconscious mind – and I would expand that to say it is part of the unconsciousness in a group’s field (team,organization, network, community).  Shadow consists of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts.  Everyone carries shadow to one degree or another.  It is part of who we are as human beings and it is part of what we collectively bring as we are in relationship with each other. It is often the underbelly of the things we love about ourselves, others, the work we do, the organizations we work in and the communities we support.  We don’t want to talk about it because we want to focus on the light and the things we love.  We want to pretend it isn’t there and in so doing we actually give it energy and life of its own.

Jung wrote, “the less shadow is embodied in an individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”  And the less we embody it and acknowledge it in our groups, the more it impacts.

Jung also said, “shadow is instinctive and irrational and thus is prone to projection onto others.”  We don’t so easily see it in ourselves but we do see it in others and in our group dynamics.  Because we instinctively project it out and onto others, it becomes difficult to speak about or to own and it seems simply easier to try to ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist, believe we are better than it.  The more we try to ignore it, the greater the likelihood it will take root in us and in our group dynamics, ironically doing exactly what we have been trying to avoid: slowing down work, getting in the way of successful results, harming interpersonal relationships, feeding judgment and frustration and just generally wearing us down til we decide anywhere else is a better place to be than here.  We become dismayed and discouraged when we leave and shadow follows us to the next group or situation we find ourselves in.  Or when someone else, whom we are sure is responsible for the shadow,  leaves but shadow doesn’t leave with them.

IMG-20110807-00004

What if we just knew that shadow exists and acknowledged it, making it normal for people to name, explore and be curious about?  And, what if, in our curiosity, we could throw ourselves open to what can be learned from shadow as it shows up and, in the process, disempower shadow’s potential to derail us, our work and our relationships?  What would it take to open up to this exploration?

These are beautiful questions for many of us who host and co-host facilitation, consulting, change or training processes.  In the Art of Hosting field, one of the mental models we use is the four fold practice.  The first of these is to be present or to host oneself.  When we do this well, we grow our capacity to host others and to host group processes where difficult conversations often show up or want to show up.  We shift the shape of our experience and the experiences of others.

Asking questions like: “Where am I willing to go? or not willing to go?” and “What are my parameters that may or may not get in the way of this group?” can be important to opening up a pathway to clearing some of our own shadow as we hold space for group process.  It is difficult to take a group where the host and/or hosting team is not willing or able to go.

When hosting teams try to hold back a conversation because of their own fear of going there one of two things often happens.  Either the group conforms to the will of the hosts and shadow builds in the conformity or we have mutiny over the host team if the group doesn’t conform.  Both of these situations create potentially explosive interpersonal dynamics in a group.  Often we feel we don’t have time to diverge to the conversations that are wanting to happen because we believe they just get in the way of reaching our goals or outcomes or just plain actions.

Sometimes we just need to clear the agenda to enter into the unspoken conversation and to do that we need to do to be present with it, create the opportunity for things to be spoken, experiences to be validated and clearing to take place.  What if, instead of fearing shadow, we  normalized it?  The real breakthroughs in our work and relationships come from the tough conversations.  Being able to navigate our way through these conversations is what makes a  group tight – the group learns to trust itself when it comes through the fire.

Jung believed that “in spite of its function as a reservoir for human darkness—or perhaps because of this,the shadow is the seat of creativity.”

There is a rich reservoir of learning for hosts and host teams on the topic and experience of shadow and how to shine the light of our individual and collective humanity on it in a way that illuminates strength, compassion, creativity and potential for all, creating a depth of connection much more likely to move mountains and shift the shape of the world we live and work in. One of the themes we will be exploring at Growing Hosting Artistry January 28-31, 2014 in Minnesota.

Reposted from Shape Shift Strategies Blog of October 16, 2010.

Container Holding as a Hosting Practice

In the work and exploration of the Art of Hosting (AoH) Conversations that Matter we often talk about the container, creating the container, holding the container – but what does it mean, really? We tend to speak of it in the same breath as hosting, as if it is the same thing.  But, is it?

In preparation for a gathering of sixty five AoH Stewards from thirteen countries that took place in Minnesota in October 2013, Jerry NagelStephen DunsBob Wing and I became deeply curious about what it would take to hold a dynamically complex field that included three breaths of Art of Hosting – founders, early adopters and new or emerging stewards, many of whom did not know each other and had never met in person – who were holding, each in their own way, many similar questions percolating in local fields around the world, centering on what it means to be a global self-organizing system.

Circle of graphic people

We began a series of calls to see what we could learn about container holding that we could apply at the Stewards Gathering, recognizing that some who would be holding the container would not be present in person but would be holding from the rim – wherever they happened to be geographically located.  For our inquiry, we separated out container holding, design and hosting recognizing they often are intertwined, happening together at the same time and that they are distinct in and of themselves.  It was – and is – rich learning.

Container holding is part of the subtle arts.  It is metaphysical, meaning of or relating to things that are thought to exist but cannot be seen. So much of what we pay attention to in hosting, beyond process, people and design, is the invisible – the energetics, consciousness.  It is why we have offerings of Hosting from a Deeper Place or the Art of Hosting the Subtle.

The invisible is alive all on its own and it shows up in the physical in group dynamics, ease or tension, flow or disruption, to name just a few ways it manifests.  We know that in any offering that is co-hosted, the frequency of the team is also alive in the field.  When the team has challenges within, those challenges show up in the larger field.  When the team has an ease of relationship, infused with trust (and usually joy), this also shows up in the field.  What is in the team is reflected back to the team.  A well connected, trustful, aligned team – which does not mean members all think alike – can hold the larger field from a place of trusting what wants to emerge and not be knocked off balance when challenges spark – at least not so off balance that they cannot recover.  The more coherent the team, the deeper they can host and the more process will flow through them rather than the team trying to control design or over-design.

Container holding might look inactive whereas design and hosting might look more active.  When we are hosting, it doesn’t mean we ignore elements of the metaphysical or subtle realms – although we are often not full intentional or conscious about it.  Attention to the metaphysical or subtle realms can also be a sole component of container holding. You can be a container holder and not be in a visible hosting role.

In the work we do, the container can be porous or permeable – and given it is metaphysical in nature that would likely hold to be true all the time.  When the container is held with the crystal clear energy of intention, this intention infuses the field and what happens as much as, and sometimes more than, design does. The hosting can be flexible, which is what we always advocate –  with a willingness to be disturbed or disrupted, trusting the chaordic path – chaos can be good, especially as we learn to sit with it until a natural sense of order emerges. If the intention is strong and held with clarity, disturbance can lead to emergence.  When the intention is less clear, disruption can lead to chaos with no pathway back to order. It is important to not be attached to design, to hosting or to process  – to hold it lightly – which is simply good hosting practice at the best of times.  We can ask the question, what does the container need to be infused with to hold chaos and disruption so it is of service to what wants to happen? It could be different depending on what is the work we are about.

A well held container invites coherence into the field. Coherence is a frequency. When we tune into the frequency we can host it into being to allow or invite it to become present, or more present – like when we hold tuning forks up to each other, they pick up the frequency of each other and become entrained.  How do we grow coherence without control, to celebrate different thinking, recognizing it can all be aligned with a common purpose and clear intention?  Is this not our work as hosts?

Container holding is part of hosting – especially when we are intentional about it.  And container holding has its own energy, its own path and its own coherence.  So much more to explore.  We are deep in our learning.  And how beautiful is that?

(Originally posted at Shape Shift on November 9, 2013)